Guaranteed To Disrupt Your Conference: The Generational Divide

Free Daddy and His Little Shadow Girls at The Skate Park Creative Commons

Baby Boomers used to say “Don’t trust anyone under 30!”

Today, the under 30s generation says, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!”

If your conference is not prepared for the astonishing change in new attitudes and behaviors of the under 30s crowd, you are going to be left behind at the altar crying for more Baby Boomers to court you. And as we all know, many of those Baby Boomers won’t return to your conference as they retire and leave their industry. So you’re left with shrinking attendance and loyalty.

Power Of Generational Change

Recently, the United Stated witnessed the great generation divide.

The usually quiet under 30s crowd displayed their astonishing new attitude towards gay marriage as the US Supreme Court took up two gay marriage issues. Unlike the Baby Boomers who were loud and proud with their protests against the Vietnam War and for women’s liberation, the under 30s generation silently protested through their social networks and onsite at the Supreme Court.

Whether you are for or against gay marriage is not the issue at hand. The issue is that the under 30s generation move to the left is not just about Obama. It is about how different this generation is as compared to what we’ve witnessed in the past.

So just how important is this generational divide? During the 2000 Bush/Gore presidential race, there was not a generational divide. So we are witnessing something new. And it will have an impact on your conferences and organization.

Consider the following facts about the under 30 somethings:

  • 42% more voted for Obama than Boomers and over 65 crowd.
  • In the 2020 Presidential election, voters under the age of 30 will be almost 40% of total vote.
  • Considering gay marriage – 32% more liberal than Boomers.
  • Regarding government’s role – 10% more liberal than Boomers.
    (Who would have thought that a generation would be for bigger government? We have to remember that the under 30 crowd grew up with 9-11 and that they experienced a government that was there to protect them.)
  • Legal standing for illegal immigrants – 13% more liberal than boomers.

Under 30s Beliefs That Affect Your Conference

The under 30s generation has a very different attitude and belief system than our traditional Baby Boomer conference attendees.

The under 30s generation:

1. Doesn’t believe what we believed.

Don’t let your conference be defined by the traditional model of education, networking and community. The under 30 generation sees all of these differently.

2. Doesn’t date the way we did.

They go out together in groups instead of in pairs. They travel in packs and converse in text. They are waiting until they get older to get married so they can be more financially stable than Boomers. Invite the under 30s crowd and their friends to attend your conference instead of just individuals.

3. Doesn’t think the way we do.

They do not believe that traditional education methods –the lecture and panels– work. They ranked lectures as number 12 with on the job training and interactivity being the first way they want to learn. They feel entitled to a different education experience than what Baby Boomers expected. Your conference education must change if you want to create loyal under 30 attendees.

4. Already has a sense of community.

They have a strong sense of community although it is a more removed sense of community. They do not feel the need to be physically together as they already have a seamless global and personal connection to others. They feel they are always part of a bigger group thanks to the internet. On the other hand, Baby Boomers were very much identified by ethnic group, geography and different tribal allegiances that the under 30 crowd does not experience.

5. Believes that government has a role in protecting people.

They will be the first generation that does not believe in any form of discrimination. The internet has become the great leveler of all people. They have a strong respect for military because it is communal, helped protect them and in their minds is a functioning successful institution.

6. Strong belief in peer to peer connections, peer-sharing and peer-learning.

Baby Boomers were connected through TV which was controlled and top-down. They joined trade associations for advocacy and activism. The under 30s generation is connected by the Internet which fosters peer-to-peer collaboration, story sharing and peer learning. They believe activism is completely connected and democratized through social networks. If your conference is not capitalizing on peer-to-peer learning, which is not the same thing as having one of their peers be the expert presenter, you will begin to lose the under 30s generation. They want to discus, digest and reflect about content in pairs, triads and small groups.

Sources: The Chris Matthews Show, March 31, 2013; The Pew Research Center; McKinsey & Company Education To Employment Report 2013; Bersin & Associates 2013 Corporation Learning Factbook.

How is your organization leveraging these new attitudes and beliefs of the under 30s crowd? What other under 30 generation beliefs have you experienced?

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  1. Jon Hixon says:

    Great article Jeff. My first reaction is that this trend could spell trouble for attendance at larger events (ie annual conferences) as it “feels like” the Under 30 generation you’re describing may be drawn to smaller events that can more organically offer the experience they seek. Can conference organizers of large events change their culture to incorporate the peer to peer learning that the next generation will demand?

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great point! I think larger conferences must find ways for people to find their tribes and provide smaller community and peer experiences within the larger group. I also think some under 30s might take that larger conference experience and create or find their own tribes through social media.

      Thanks for reading and commenting too!

  2. “They” is used more than “we” in this post, so it begs the credibility question.

    Can some “under 30’s” comment and validate the six suppositions?

    On several of these points I can report on repeated conversations with several young people (smart, energetic, and quite aware MBAs) who would completely disagree with #1, #3, #4.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      ‘@Occasional Planner

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m sure all of us can find some under 30 folks that would disagree with these points. Regardless, these points are taken from current research and the evidence about the majority of under 30s is clear. I identified my sources for the research as well.

      BTW, the “they” vs “we” is because I do not fall in the under 30s crowd so I am not part of “them.”

  3. Don't forget us X'ers says:

    I have seen a lot of articles written lately about boomers vs. millennials, many of which leave out X’ers. Just an observation.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      ‘@Don’t forget us Xers

      I think you’re missing the point of this post. The under 30 crowd will have more power than Generation X due to their size of their population. Generation X has also affected the world just in different ways.

  4. Lizzy Ryan says:

    I’m an under 30 (though not by much), an educated MPPA holder, and an association professional. I tend to agree with all of your points, with the exception of a personal disagreement on #3. I like to learn in a lecture format and find that I absorb much more information when I do. But I am an introvert and I like time to listen, reflect, then act on and discuss what I’m learning. But I like having that opportunity as you discuss within #3 and again in #6. That helps me “complete” the learning process after a lecture.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Interesting. You wrote the key words..reflect, act on and discuss. So that does not happen in a lecture unless the speaker stops talking.

      The scientific evidence by many neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists proves that listening to a lecture does not cause learning. You cannot give you attention to thinking and listening at the same time. Unless you have a rare gift, even after listening to a professor lecture, you still have to study the points in order to learn them. Memory is the residue of learning. Learning requires that you receive information, reflect on it and connect it with personal knowledge and experience and then understand how to apply it. You can’t do that will listening. So the lecture is only a starting point…

      Thanks for reading and commenting too,

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